SYRACUSE, N.Y. — London Perrantes walked slowly down the court with less than a minute remaining Saturday, wiping his lip with the fringe of his jersey and staring deep into the Carrier Dome crowd.
He knew this feeling all too well: Syracuse on the verge of an upset, a double-digit halftime lead having vanished.
Last year, top-seeded Virginia lost its grip on a 14-point halftime advantage in the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Region final, and 10th-seeded Syracuse advanced to the Final Four. More than 10 months later, the script was nearly identical. The No. 9 Cavaliers blew a 12-point halftime cushion, falling to the unranked Orange, 66-62, for Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim’s unofficial 1,000th win.
“This game wasn’t getting us to the Final Four, so I don’t think that there was anything that could’ve gotten me revenge for that,” Perrantes said. “. . . Regular season is completely different.”
Even if the stakes of the game weren’t the same, the first half in the Carrier Dome mirrored that from United Center in Chicago last year. Virginia (17-5, 7-3 ACC) caught fire from deep, this time courtesy of Kyle Guy’s three three-pointers from in front of the Syracuse bench rather than Perrantes’s five first-half threes from the 68-62 loss in the tournament. Syracuse (15-9, 7-4), three days removed from a 100-point eruption at North Carolina State, was held to 22 first-half points, one more than it scored in the first 20 minutes in March.
A different Virginia team emerged from the tunnel to start the second half, though, one far more hesitant on offense and susceptible to the same offensive spurts by the Orange that doomed it the last time. Syracuse scored the first 11 points after halftime, and the Cavaliers didn’t score their first points until Guy’s baseline floater 7:11 into the half. Syracuse answered with an 8-0 run to take a 41-36 lead.
“Definitely leading up to it, we said, ‘Hey, let’s try to learn from last year. You can be going and all of a sudden . . .’ ” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “We talked about just how good they are in spurts. That’s how they play. They’re spurt-ical, especially those scorers.”
Those scorers, Syracuse fifth-year senior Andrew White and freshman Tyus Battle, combined for 28 second-half points. Point guard John Gillon, who poured in 43 against N.C. State, and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse’s highest-touted NBA prospect, combined for only 12 points. But that didn’t matter. Virginia’s offense was far too disoriented to crawl out of a hole once Syracuse took a lead with 11:56 remaining in the game.
The Cavaliers committed seven turnovers in the second half and 15 total, including several errant passes by Perrantes into the teeth of Syracuse’s zone and a bevy of miscues caused because the Orange’s length was simply too much for Virginia to handle. The Cavaliers entered the game averaging 9.6 turnovers, second fewest in the nation.
“I just think we got a little hesitant on offense,” Guy said. “We weren’t being as aggressive as we were in the first [half]. Turnovers have been . . . any time we lose, that’s always the case.”
Virginia had an answer every time Syracuse tried to pull away, whether it came via a layup by Isaiah Wilkins or another three-pointer by Guy, who led the Cavaliers with 14 points. When the freshman hit his fourth three of the day, he motioned for the crowd to “shush” before being showered with an expletive-laden chant about his “man bun.”
The last glimmer of hope for the visitors came on an eight-point spurt by Perrantes within the final three minutes. The senior had done little of note until that point, but a jumper and two three-pointers kept Virginia afloat. In the end, it wasn’t enough; the ACC’s best team at home snatched a win from the conference’s best road team.
When the final buzzer sounded, Syracuse fans stormed the court for the second home game in a row. Virginia moved lethargically back down the tunnel as Boeheim waved his arms in the air for the 27,553 in attendance. It was his 899th win at the school, not counting the 101 vacated as part of previous NCAA sanctions levied against Syracuse.
Unlike in March, the Cavaliers have a chance to bounce back, but it doesn’t get any easier. Virginia will move on to a home game Monday against No. 6 Louisville.